Gipe returns for another regional tournament

Andrew Gipe’s voice was very relaxed. There wasn’t a hint of anxiousness in his voice, either.

The South Williamsport senior has been in this position before, three times actually. He’s no stranger to the Northeast Regional tournament having wrestled here the first three years of his high school career. But the importance of a regional tournament has never reached the level of this year’s Class AA tournament which begins tonight at Williamsport High School.

This is Gipe’s last chance to qualify for a trip to Hershey and the state tournament. He’s not feeling the pressure, though. He’s calm, he’s relaxed and he’s ready to let his years of hard work and preparation determine what happens.

“It’s my senior year,” Gipe said. “You just have to let it all out on the mat. I want to make it to states, I’ve always been so close. No regrets, just let it all out there.”

Gipe, who is wrestling at 126 pounds, is one of four South Williamsport wrestlers competing at this weekend’s regional tournament, the most it’s had since four wrestlers qualified in 2010. But head coach Chris Molino isn’t trying to add any unnecessary pressure to the group, which includes Gipe, 132-pounder Nate Jones, 170-pounder Justin Knee and 195-pounder Tyler Jenkins.

Instead, he’s trying to make this an enjoyable experience for all four wrestlers. It’s the same thing he did a week ago, stressing the importance of having fun and just enjoying being out on the mat. This week, along with working out on the mat, Molino has his team in the gym playing dodgeball or messing around on the rings that hang from the gym to distract from how important this week is.

“You want to win and with the winning, sometimes kids get caught up in wanting it so bad they put an unbelievable amount of pressure on themselves,” Molino said. “When really, what you need to do is go out there and enjoy the sport and compete and score.”

It’s why Gipe goes into the regional tournament not feeling the pressure of needing to get into the top three to make it to the state tournament. It may be the most important tournament of his career, but Gipe talks about it like it’s a Christmas tournament with a field of stiff competition.

Maybe the calmness comes from the familiarity of the tournament. Gipe has seen about everything there is to see in his three previous trips to the regional tournament.

His losses have come to the likes of Cole Walter, Vito Pasone, David Sheesley (twice) and Matt Welliver, all wrestlers who have placed at the state tournament. And he’s never failed to wrestle closely with the best as his weight class. The breaks during the regional tournament just have never seemed to go his way.

“I’m not feeling too much pressure at all, really. I know I’m going to do the best I can,” Gipe said. “I worked my butt off. Whatever happens, happens. Hopefully I’ll have my day and a good day and I’ll be moving on to states. I’m mentally ready, I know what I have to do.”

Gipe is one of two seniors the Mounties have competing this weekend, with Knee being the other. Knee worked through a brutal 170-pound field last week to finish fourth in the District 4 tournament, to earn his first trip regionals.

It was an offseason of work toward football for Knee that led to the best season of his wrestling career. He dedicated himself in the weight room, and the added strength along with a solid base of wrestling technique has put Knee in position to enter regionals with 30 wins.

“His physique has changed quite a bit,” Molino said. “But this started a long time ago, when wrestling was over last year then through the spring and summer and fall. Early in the mornings he’s getting extra workouts in. As a wrestler we saw the improvement early on. He’s a quick learner and he’s been a really pleasure to work with.”

Gipe has had maybe his biggest influence on Jones, his workout partner for the last two years. Jones, a sophomore 132-pounder was a West Sectional champion who finished fifth a week ago. He’s the only one of the three qualifiers from the West Sectional still alive at 132 pounds.

Gipe said he’s been bettered as a wrestler for working with Jones as much as Jones has been bettered by working with Gipe. He said he was excited to see Jones qualify for the regional tournament as just a sophomore.

“He’s a great practice partner,” Gipe said. “There’s some emotional attachment there because I want him to do good, too. He’s young, but I think he’s ahead of the game. He’s got a few good years ahead of him.”

“It’s a great experience for Nate to be over there,” Molino said. “Working out with Andrew, it’s easy for Nate to be intense and be a better wrestler. You don’t have a choice when Andrew is your partner, you either get better or it’s not a very fun time in there.”

Jenkins is maybe the biggest surprise of the four qualifiers for South Williamsport. But it wasn’t so much of a surprise for Molino. Jenkins, who started the season 9-9 and is now 21-11, bought into Molino’s wish of just having fun and letting whatever may happen, happen.

His biggest win during districts came in a fall over Canton’s Connor Route in the consolation semifinals. The win pushed Jenkins into the third-place match, which he won by forfeit, and put Route into a win-or-go-home situation wrestling for fifth place.

“That was just about competing and getting an opportunity to make something happen,” Molino said. “He’s a gamer type of kid. The thing that was impressive was he decided to get out there and have some fun and get after some things. It worked out for him.”

There wasn’t much which didn’t seem to work out for the Mounties a week ago. But don’t think they’re satisfied. They know there’s still work to do, and they’re going to have fun doing it.